When making plans to visit someone, we check our calendar to see when we are free, and then consult with the other person to find out when their availability matches ours. Once a date is found, we agree on it and mark it on the calendar. And so our plans are set and everything is arranged.
We do this all the time. We do it for the spring and the summer and the fall. When the date arrives, we make the trip as planned. We make trips like this so regularly, that it really doesn’t occur to us that there could be anything to make our travel difficult or even cancel it.
We forget that travel plans in the winter are not always so simple. Our plans and the weather may not cooperate, and when they don’t our plans usually lose. We just had an example of this on Friday, January 19. If you had plans to drive somewhere in the Midwest on that weekend, they probably didn’t work out because of the snow that moved through. Bad winter weather is an unpredictable factor that can make travel dangerous and prevent us from going. Many of us have probably had the experience of being stranded in an airport because of weather, or of having to find a hotel because it was just not possible to continue driving.
Life around the Sea of Galilee for Jesus and the disciples was very similar. This body of water was a convenient way to get from one place to another. After all, a straight line across the lake is shorter than going around its circumference. It was certainly much easier to sit in a boat and let the wind do the work, than it was to walk. Among Jesus’ disciples were a number of men who had been fisherman – they had spent their lives on the Sea of Galilee and knew all about sailing there.
It’s not surprising then that we find Jesus traveling on the Sea of Galilee on a number of occasions. Our text begins this morning by telling us, “And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him.” Yet again they were going to travel on the lake. But like our own experiences, travel there was affected by weather. We learn, “And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep.”
Literally, the Greek text says that the boat “was being covered” by the waves. This was a very dangerous situation, and a number of the disciples were experienced enough on the water to know it. The situation had passed over from concern into real fear that their lives were at risk.
Jesus was in the boat with them. And what was he doing? He was asleep. It’s not hard to understand why he was tired. Last Sunday we heard about how our Lord healed the leper and the Centurion’s servant. Next he went to Peter’s house and healed his mother-in-law. After this Matthew tells us: “That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’”
From the Gospels we get a sense of how Jesus’ ministry pressed in on him. People wanted to hear him and interact with with. Jesus had just done this with two would be followers just before our text. Crowds came to him for healing and to have demons cast out. According to his divine nature Jesus was true God, begotten of the Father. But according to his human nature he was true man, born of the virgin Mary. As someone who was true man, Jesus got tired just like you do. He doesn’t know what it is like to be worn out just because he is the omniscient Son of God. He knows because he experienced it in his own flesh. Our Lord was tired, and so he was asleep in the boat in spite of the storm.
The disciples woke Jesus, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” Despite the fact that Jesus was there in the boat with them, they feared for their lives. They woke our Lord and appealed that he save them.
Jesus’ response to them and his action that followed teach us about our life as Christians. He said, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Our Lord said that there was no need for fear. In fact, the presence of fear demonstrated a lack of faith. Note that this was still faith. In their fear they had turned to Jesus. They did believe in him as the One who could do something about the situation. But they woke him because of fear that the sleeping Lord was not enough to protect them.
Jesus’ use of the term “little faith” should be a comfort to us. The good news is that even in our fear and weakness, faith that Jesus considers to be faith, is still present. It was for the disciples. That is why they woke Jesus and begged him for help. It is for us.
Yet Jesus’ rebuke, ““Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” reminds us that it’s not ok to remain there. Little faith is faith that is being attacked by sin and unbelief. Little faith is faith that is at risk to succumb. If we are content to live there, it will.
Our Lord responded to the disciples’ plea by rising and rebuking the winds and the sea. The Creator of all creation took control of his creation that was disordered by sin and ended the upheaval. We learn in our text, “Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.” When the disciples saw it, they marveled saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
We know the answer to the question. Jesus is God in the flesh. He is the incarnate Son of God. And this demonstration of his saving power was just a foretaste of what he had come to do. He had come into our world in order destroy sin and all that it produces. Earlier I referred to how Jesus was healing and casting out demons and Matthew tells us, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’” Those words are from Isaiah chapter 53 – the chapter about the suffering Servant. They teach us that Jesus’ healing ministry was of a piece with his work to take away our sin by dying on the cross in or place. Sin is the source of all that is wrong in our world and lives. Jesus was here to deal with sin and all the ways it manifests itself.
Our text calls us to believe in Jesus. It draws us from little faith to greater faith. It teaches us about who Jesus is as our Savior – the authority he has to save us. We need this because the boat is not always saved. Instead, sometimes the boat shares in the fate of the Wilhelm Gustav.
The Wilhelm Gustav was a German cruise liner that was taken into German military service during World War II. First used as a hospital ship, it was later employed as a floating barracks for U-boat trainees. In January 1945 the army of the Soviet Union had become an unstoppable force that was pressing west.
All involved knew that the Soviets intended to seek revenge against German civilians because of what the German invasion had done to Russia. They would be murdered, and the woman of all ages faced the likelihood of rape. They were desperate to escape. In East and West Prussia, more than ten thousand people boarded the ship. Nine thousand of those were civilians. Five thousand were children. On January 30 a Russian submarine hit the Wilhem Gustav with three torpedoes. The ship sank in less than an hour in the frigid water of the Baltic Sea.
More than ninety six hundred people died, making it the deadliest sinking in maritime history. No doubt, many of those people were Lutheran, just like you and I. Our Gospel lesson this morning does not promise that Jesus is going to save you from every disaster. Instead, it calls you to ever greater faith in Jesus because of who he is and what he has done for you.
Jesus is the Lord who was died on the cross in order to win the forgiveness of sins. And he is the Lord who conquered death when he rose on the third day. He has done this, and he has done this for you. Because of this he gives you forgiveness and life no matter what circumstances you experience. There is nothing that can happen that will separate you from Jesus Christ’s forgiveness, love and salvation – not even death.
This Jesus calls you to believe and trust in him in ever greater ways. You don’t summon this up in yourself. Instead this faith always comes from the outside. It always comes from the Lord through the work of his Spirit. He does this through his Means of Grace. To grow stronger in faith – to not be of little faith – you must be fed. You must receive our Lord through reading, hearing and studying his Word. You must actually think about your baptism and what it means for you. You must receive the true body and blood of Jesus Christ in his Sacrament. This is how you go from little faith to faith that rests secure in Jesus Christ no matter what happens in life.
And it’s not as if this is something then just locked in place. Instead, the devil, the world and your own sinful nature are always working against faith. If faith is to remain strong against such attacks we must live lives focused on Jesus – and that means lives focused on the ways that Jesus is present for us. In means lives that place Christ’s Means of Grace at the center of who we are and what we do.
The more we do this, the more our doing will be that produced by Jesus. This life of faith is one that the Spirit leads not only to trust in Christ in the midst of all circumstances. It is also a life that seeks to love and serve my family members and fellow congregation members. It is a life that seeks to restrain the sin the old Adam wants to do. It is a life that seeks to do those things that are true to God’s will – those things that are in fact good for me. The life of faith – the life sustained by Jesus Christ’s gifts – is one that is ready for anything, because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.